Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 36: Capitals vs. Islanders, April 1

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals visit Long Island for the first time this season when they faceoff against the New York Islanders on Thursday night.  The Caps are coming off a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers in which they held a 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes old.  The Islanders are returning home after a 2-2-0 road trip and carry a two-game losing streak into this game.

The Islanders have the best home record in the league by points percentage (.875/13-1-2), and unlike what one might expect from a Barry Trotz-coached team, they have the second best scoring offense on home ice this season to date (3.81 goals per game).

The Islanders built that scoring offense at home with balance – 16 different players have goals, and 21 have points at home this season – but they have also mixed in the unexpected.  For instance, the Isles’ leading goal scorer on home ice this year is not the uber-talented Mathew Barzal or the steady Brock Nelson or the injured Anders Lee.  It is Jean-Gabriel Pageau, tied with Jordan Eberle for the team lead with eight goals in 16 games at Nassau Coliseum.  There is a distinct home tilt to Pageau’s goal scoring, having those eight goals at home but only three in 19 road games this season.  He is in his first full season with the Islanders after being traded to New York in February 2020 by the Ottawa Senators for a first, second, and third round draft pick

Pageau was a capable contributor as mostly a bottom six forward in his first seven seasons, posting 63 goals and 142 points in 368 games.  However, he never hit the 20-goal mark over those seven seasons.  And then there was last year, his eighth season.  In 60 games with the Senators he posted 24 goals before he was shipped to the Islanders, for whom he added another two goals in seven games before the regular season was suspended.  Part of that jump in production might be attributed to getting more ice time and with it, more offensive responsibility.  After averaging 15:45 of ice time per game over his first seven seasons, he averaged 19:18 last season for Ottawa and 18:00 in his seven games with the Islanders to end the season.  This season, Pageau has 11 goals in 35 games while averaging 16:56 in ice time per game.  He is 0-1-1, minus-1, in three games against the Caps this season and 0-1-1, minus-13, in 21 career games against Washington.

Jordan Eberle has an odd connection to the Capitals.  He was drafted 22nd overall in the 2008 Entry Draft.  By itself, that does not mean much, but the Capitals held the 23rd overall pick in that draft.  They traded it, plus a second round pick (54th overall) to New Jersey for the 21st overall pick.  The Caps selected Anton Gustafsson with that pick, a player who would play one game as a professional in North America, that with the Hershey Bears.  Meanwhile, Eberle was drafted by Edmonton with the next pick, the one the Caps jumped over to take Gustafsson, and played 507 games in seven seasons with the Oilers before he was traded to the islanders for Ryan Strome in June 2017.  With New York he has 71 goals and 157 points in 253 games over four seasons.

This season, Eberle has a solid 11-10-21, plus-6 scoring line overall and is 8-5-13, plus-6, in 16 home games.  He shook off a five-game streak without a goal on home ice when he had what proved to be the game-winning goal in the Islanders’ 61 win over Philadelphia on Long Island in the Isles’ most recent home game on March 20th.  Eberle is 0-1-1, plus-1, in three games against the Caps this season and 3-6-9, minus-10, in 24 career games against Washington.

Over his first 20 games this season, Semyon Varlamov put in his claim to be a Vezina Trophy finalist with a 13-4-3, 2.03, .929 record with three shutouts.  Things have not gone quite as smoothly for Varlamov lately, though.  In his last five appearances he is 1-3-0 (one no-decision).  lately, though.  It has not been a matter of overwork, Varlamov having faced 26.4 shots per 60 minutes over those five games, and average that is less than what he faced on a per-60 minutes basis over his hot 20-game start (28.4).

As the Islanders head down the stretch, the question about Varlamov is whether he can get back to his fine play over his first 20 games.  It bears noting that since he finished second in the Vezina Trophy voting on a record of 41-14-6, 2.41, .927, with two shutouts, he has been a good deal more average.  His goals against average of 2.72 over the last seven seasons, including this one, ranks 34th among 65 goalies logging at least 5,000 minute in that span.  His .915 save percentage ranks 21st in that group, and his even strength percentage of .919 ranks 37th among 63 goalies appearing in at least 100 games over that period.  These are numbers of an above average goalie, not the Vezina candidate that Varlamov has been over the first two-thirds of the season.  Varlamov is 0-3-0, 3.76, .864 in three appearances against Washington this season and 4-9-1, 2.96, .914 in 14 career appearances against the Caps.

1.  Where the Caps have been strong in scoring by period (second periods), the Islanders have been weak.  While they rank third in the league in both first period goals scored (20) and third period goals scored (26), they have only 25 second period goals scored this season (tied for 23rd).

2.  New York leads the East Division in 5-on-5 goals scored on home ice (47) and ranks third in the entire league (Colorado: 48; Edmonton: 49).

3.  New York has allowed only 32 goals on home ice, tied with Boston for second fewest in the league (Minnesota: 30).

4.  The Islanders are the only team in the league with a perfect record on home ice when out-shooting their opponent (9-0-0).

5.  Scoring first seems not to matter to New York when playing at home.  They are 8-0-2 when scoring first 9.800 winning percentage), 5-1-0 when trailing first (.833 winning percentage).

1.  Washington has not lost consecutive games over a 22-game stretch dating back to February 16th (17-4-1).

2.  But when they lost during that span of games, they lost.  All four regulation losses were by multi-goal margins, three by three or more goals.

3.  Only three teams have had fewer power play chances per game on the road that the Caps (2.56) – Buffalo (2.28), Columbus (1.94), and Anaheim (1.83).

4.  As a result of few road power play chances, the Caps have the second-worst road power play goal differential per game (0.19; power play goals per game less shorthanded goals allowed per game).  Only Columbus is worse (0.11).

5.  Of 22 skaters to dress for the Caps on the road this season, only two – Trevor van Riemsdyk and Jonas Siegenthaler – do not have a point.  Each has appeared in only two road games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Nick Leddy

Since he came into the league in 2010-2011, defensemen Nick Leddy has appeared in more games (756) than fellow defensemen Zdeno Chara (741), P.K. Subban (745), and Mark Giordano (735). He has more points (330) than Chara (302), Ryan McDonagh (307), or Cam Fowler (316).  He has logged more minutes (15,503) than Kevin Shattenkirk (14,778), T.J. Brodie (15,083), or Tyler Myers (14,527).  He has been a solid, if unspectacular defenseman for 11 seasons, the first four with the Chicago Blackhawks and the last seven with the Islanders after he was traded with Kent Simpson for T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka, and Anders Nilsson.

Leddy has quietly climbed the Islanders all-time lists in variety of categories among defensemen.  He is two games short of becoming the eighth defenseman in team history to appear in 500 games with the club.  With two goals he will tie Jean Potvin for fifth place on the all-time Islanders list among defensemen.  Only three defensemen in Islanders history have more points than Leddy (237) – Tomas Jonsson (333), Stefan Persson (369), and Denis Potvin (1,052).  He needs one power play goal to jump into the top ten among defensemen where he would tie Roman Hamrlik (14).  He is eighth in team history among defensemen in power play points (83).  This season he has only one goal on 47 shots, but with 24 assists he is on a pace to establish a career high in points per game (0.69).  Leddy is 0-0-0, minus-4, in three games against the Caps this season and 1-7-8, minus-13, in 32 career games against Washington.

Washington: Jakub Vrana

Snipers are paid to snipe.  And when said sniper is scoring goals with career high efficiency, you would be forgiven for thinking he is having a big year.  So, why isn’t Jakub Vrana having a big year?  His 15.4 shooting percentage is the best of his five-year career to date.  However, his 0.29 goals per game (ten for the season in 34 games) is his third best in those five seasons. The problem is that he just has not gotten puck to the net.  Vrana has 65 shots in those 34 games, 1.96 shots per game, more than three-quarters of a shot per game short of what he averaged last season (2.71).

It was a progression of sorts that led to Vrana’s being largely absent from the score sheet in recent games.  He was 3-5-8, plus-6, I the first ten games of the season, recording 20 shots in ten games (2.00 per game) and converting them at a 15.0 percent rate. He remained productive in his next ten games, going 4-2-6, plus-1, but recording 27 shots on goal (2.70 per game), converting 14.8 percent of those shots into goals.  He scored three goals on nine shots in his next four games, but things have taken a turn in his last ten games.  He is without a goal in that span on just nine shots taken, and what might be of most concern, he averaged just 13:20 in ice time over those ten games, not what one would expect from a top-six forward.  In fact, his average even strength ice time per game for the season overall has slipped between Nic Dowd (12:25) and Conor Sheary (12:02).  Vrana is 0-1-1, minus-1, in three games against the Islanders this season and 4-5-9, even, in 18 career games against New York.

In the end…

More than the Pittsburgh Penguins, more than the New York Rangers, more than the Philadelphia Flyers, the Islanders are joined at the hip with the Caps in their respective histories.  Since the Islanders came into the league two seasons before Washington, they have 1,678 wins to the Caps’ 1,687.  The Caps averaged 3.15 goals per game to the Isles’ 3.16.  New York averaged 3.13 goals allowed to the Caps’ 3.16.  Both have averaged 29.3 shots per game.  There is, of course, the matter of the Islanders’ four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980’s against the Caps’ lone Cup in 2018, but in the regular season there has been little daylight between the teams in their overall performance. But the Caps do have a decided edge against the Isles over their regular season histories.  The Caps have 114 wins against the Isles versus 98 wins for New York against the Caps.  And that includes the three wins the Caps posted so far this year against the Islanders.  Do we hear “four?”

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 35: Rangers 5 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their two-game set with the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York the first of what will be a five-game road trip for the Caps against teams in the New York metro area.  The Caps entered the game on a three-game winning streak and a loss to the Rangers on March 20th being their only blemish over their last 11 games.  The Rangers were trying to stop a losing streak at two games.  They did just that, spotting the Caps a 2-0 lead before roaring back with five unanswered goals in a 5-2 win.

First Period

The Caps went on a power play just 1:42 into the game when Kevin Rooney was sent off on a holding call.  The Caps converted the chance 41 seconds later when T.J. Oshie slid out from the top of the crease to an open area between the hash marks, took a feed from Nicklas Backstrom, and snapped a shot over the glove of goalie Igor Shesterkin at the 2:23 mark.

The Caps looked as if they scored a second goal 4:22 into the period when out of a clot of bodies in the crease, Nic Dowd jabbed at the puck and nudged it under Shesterkin.  A video review ensued, the question being whether Shesterkin was pushed with the under him over the goal line.  The review confirmed the goal, and the Caps were up, 2-0.

New York went on the power play when the Caps were called for too many men on the ice at 12:29 of the period.  The Rangers got two shots on goal, but neither found the back of the net, and the score remained 2-0, Caps.

The Rangers did halve the lead, though, when Filip Chytil pilfered the puck from Dmitry Orlov just inside the Rangers’ blue line and sped off on a breakaway.  He deked goalie Vitek Vanecek to the ice and lifted a forehand over Vanecek’s right pad to make it 2-1, Caps, at the 15:26 mark.

The Rangers got a second power play late in the frame when Zdeno Chara went off for slashing at 19:18 of the period.  The Rangers would not score in the first 42 seconds of the power play but would have 1:18 in power play time to open the second period.  The Caps led after one period, 2-1.

-- Washington outshot the Rangers, 12-10, in the period but were out-attemtped by New York, 18-17.

-- Brenden Dillon, Garnet Hathaway, and Nic Dowd each had two shots on goal to lead the Caps.

-- In his first game back after injury kept him out of the lineup for seven games, Lars Eller skated only five shifts and 3:33 in the period, his shifts and ice time both being lowest on the team.

-- Washington was 12-for-20 on faceoffs in the period, led by Dowd, who was 4-for-5.

Second Period

The Caps killed of the remainder of the Ranger power play that carried over into the second period and held on to their 2-1 lead.  The teams played to a standoff for the next 11-plus minutes until the Caps had their second power play of the evening, Phil DiGiuseppe going off for tripping at the 12:44 mark.  The Caps managed five shots on goal with the man advantage but could not solve Shesterkin for the third goal.  Neither team would score in the period, and the Caps took a 2-1 lead into the third period.

-- The Caps outshot New York, 10-7, in the period and out-attempted them, 18-11.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was the only Capital without a shot attempt over the first 40 minutes.

-- Lars Eller was the only Capital taking more than one faceoff was under 50 percent over the first two periods (3-for-7/42.9 percent).

Third Period

The Rangers tied the game in the fifth minute when Kaapo Kakko finished a three man rush that began with another Caps turnover at the offensive blue line, this one by Zdeno Chara, stuffing a feed from Ryan Strome from the top of the crease past Vanecek to make it 2-2, 4:10 into the period.  Just 2:22 later, Adam Fox gave the Rangers their first lead of the evening when he took a feed from Artemi Panarin, circled through the right wing faceoff circle, and caught Vanecek leaning to his right, backhanding a shot over Vanecek’s glove on the near side 6:32 into the period.

The Caps almost tied it when Nicklas Backstrom’s shot from the right wing circle looked to be ticketed for the top corner on the far side, but Shesterkin shouldered it aside, and Brendan Smith sprung Panarin on a clean breakaway, Panarin finishing the scoring play with a nifty backhand over Vanecek’s right pad to make it 4-2, 15:41 into the period.

The Rangers added an empty net goal with 34.9 seconds left for the 5-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- T.J. Oshie’s power play goal in the first period was the Caps’ first in 17 tries against the Ranger penalty killers this season.

-- The four third period goals allowed to the Rangers made it two straight games allowing four third period goals and eight third period goals allowed by the Caps to New York over two games.

-- The Caps outshot the Rangers, 32-27, and outattempted them, 54-45.

-- Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin were the only Caps without a shot on goal.

-- Tom Wilson finished the night with 12 minutes in penalties, the second time this season he hit double digits in PIMs (March 5th, 10 minutes in a 5-1 loss to Boston).

-- Thirteen of 18 skaters for the Caps finished with minus ratings; none were in plus territory.

-- Lars Eller skated a team low 10:05 in ice time in his first game back after injury.

-- Six different Caps finished with one point.

-- John Carlson led the team with 23:56 in ice time.

-- The loss broke a personal four-game winning streak for Vitek Vanecek.

In the end…



Sunday, March 28, 2021

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 34: Capitals 5 - Rangers 4

The Washington Capitals hosted the New York Rangers in a noon start at Capital One Arena.  The Caps were trying to extend their most recent winning streak to three games, while the Rangers were looking to get back to winning ways after a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.  The Caps entered the game atop the East Division by virtue of a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders, while the Rangers started the game in sixth place, three points behind the Boston Bruins for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division.  The Caps closed the Washington portion of the season series with a 5-4 win that was far closer a game at the end than it should have been.

First Period

The teams were more or less even in shots and shot attempts over the first half of the period when it appeared the Rangers scored the first goal, a shot from below the goal line that struck T.J. Oshie in the face and ricocheted toward the goal line.  Dmitry Orlov darted in and swept the puck away before it could completely cross the goal line, and fideo review confirmed that it was no goal.

The Caps got the game’s first power play late in the period when Colin Blackwell was sent off on a roughing call at 17:15.  Washington had two shots on goal but did not convert, and the teams went to the first intermission in a scoreless tie.

-- Washington outshot the Rangers, 11-6, and out-attempted them, 18-14.

-- Carl Hagelin led the Caps with three shots on goal.  Yes, that is not a misprint.  John Carlson had five shot attempts.

-- Nicklas Backstrom won five of seven draws, the only Capital over 50 percent for the period.

-- Ten Capitals were credited with hits.  Nine of them had one; T.J. Oshie had three.

Second Period

Washington was awarded their second power play of the afternoon when Brendan Smith was called for hooking at 3:25. The Caps were shutout on shots and failed to convert for the second time in as many power play chances.

The Rangers had their first power play chance of the game at the 7:11 mark when Nic Dowd went to the penalty box on a holding call.  The Caps killed the power play without allowing the Rangers a shot on goal.

The Caps broke through in the 11th minute. Ryan Lindgren tried to shoot the puck to the net from the left point, but the shot was muffled by Tom Wilson.  The puck escaped to the neutral zone, where Jakub Vrana tacked it down and separated from the defense on a breakaway.  His shot was stopped by goalie Keith Kinkaid, but Tom Wilson followed up and backhanded the rebound past Kinkaid’s left pad to make it 1-0 at the 10:43 mark.

They doubled their lead less than two minutes later when an Alex Ovechkin shot from deep in the left wing corner hit a Ranger in the low slot and clicked off the left pad of Kinkaid and into the far side of the net at the 12:29 mark.

Wilson put the Caps up by three less than three minutes later when he batted a rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot out of mid-air on his backhand past the right shoulder of Kinkaid at the 15:07 mark.  Washington weather a couple of good scoring chances by the Rangers in the last five minutes of the period, including a breakaway, and got a late power play on a high-sticking call on Carl Hagelin, but finished the period with their 3-0 lead intact.

-- The Caps outshot new York, 8-5, in the period but were out-attempted, 14-12

-- Washington was credited with 26 hits through 40 minutes to 14 for the Rangers.  Fourteen different Caps had hits on their score sheet lines, Zdeno Chara leading the group with four.

-- Alex Ovechkin, Carl Hagelin, and John Carlson led the Caps with three shots on goal apiece; Carlson and Tom Wilson had five shot attempts.

Third Period

The Hagelin penalty that carried over into the third period was killed off, and the Caps kept their 3-0 lead.  Washington got their third power play chance of the game when Libor Hajek went off for interference at 1:50.  The Caps did not convert the power play, but they did extend their lead in the sixth minute.  Carl Hagelin held the puck behind the Ranger net looking for a passing lane.  Sliding to his left, he found Evgeny Kuznetsov in the middle for a one timer that beat Kinkaid cleanly at the 5:10 mark.

New York ruined the shutout bid by goalie Ilya Samsonov when Colin Blackwell circled with the puck in deep to Samsonov’s right.  Looking as if he might go for a wrap-around attempt, he tried instead to bank the puck off Samsonov before going around the net.  The puck bounced around in the crease, and Blackwell cleaned it up to put the Rangers on the board at the 6:42 mark.

Blackwell got his second of the period on a fine play by defenseman Libor Hajek, who kept the puck in at the offensive blue line to allow the Rangers to keep the Caps hemmed in.  He slid the puck up to Kevin Rooney in the left wing circle, who then fed it to the low slot for a redirect by an uncovered Blackwell, and it was 4-2, 9:41 into the period.

What momentum the Caps might have generated was stalled when Oshie restored the Caps three-goal lead, circling from behind the net with Hajek on his tail, redirecting a Justin Schultz drive out of mid-aid and into the top of the net past Kinkaid to make it 5-2 11:46 into the period.

That Ranger momentum was not snuffed out though.  They cut the Caps’ lead back to two goals when Alexis Lafreniere scored at the 12:18 mark, following up on a rebound of a Kevin Rooney shot, to make it 5-3.

The Rangers got a chance to take another bite out of the Caps’ lead when Wilson was sent off for tripping at 15:57 of the period. It took the Rangers just 11 seconds to convert the chance when Chris Kreider redirected a Ryan Strome pass behind Samsonov at 16:08.

The Rangers pulled Kinkaid late, but it was to no avail.  The Caps skated off with a 5-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s second period goal was his 456th career even strength goal, tying Brett Hull for sixth-most all time. 

-- Dmitry Orlov had two assists for his first multi-point game of the season and his first since he had a pair of assists against Winnipeg on February 25, 2020.

-- Tom Wilson’s two-goal game was his eighth career multi-goal game, tying him with six other players, among them John Druce, Keith Jones, and Mike Knuble.

-- Washington outshot the Rangers, 22-20, but the Rangers had 48 shot attempts to the Caps’ 39.

-- Four Caps finished with three shots on goal – Alex Ovechkin, Carl Hagelin, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie.  Carlson led the club with six shot attempts.

-- The Caps out-hit the Rangers, 36-21.  John Carlson, Zdeno Chara, and Garnet Hathaway had four apiece to lead the team.

-- Nicklas Backstrom and Nic Dowd each had double-digit faceoff wins, Backstrom going 14-for-24 (58.3 percent) and Dowd going 10-for-13 (76.9 percent).

-- John Carlson led the Caps with 22:52 in ice time.

-- Odd thing about Alex Ovechkin’s ice time.  He skated 5:37 on power plays but only 11:30 at even strength, less than six other forwards.

-- The five goals scored by the Caps tied a season high allowed by the Rangers, who have allowed five goals five times.

In the end…

For 45 minutes, this was as pretty a game as the Caps have played in a while.  The last 15 minutes?  It was like someone vomited on a Twinkie and passed it off as art.  But a win is a win is a win.  The trick now will be to keep the Rangers from carrying any momentum from this game into the rematch in New York on Tuesday night.


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 11

It was a light work week for the Washington Capitals, both in terms of games played and strength of opponent.  The Caps looked a bit rusty at times in their first of two games against the New Jersey Devils, but they hung on for a victory before dominating the Devils in the second of the two games to make it a successful week.

Record: 2-0-0

The Caps came into the week and their two-game set against the New Jersey Devils having won all four previous meetings this season, outscoring the Devs, 17-11.  They ended the week 6-0-0 against New Jersey with a 25-14 edge in scoring.  In doing so, the Caps also ended the week with a 16-3-1 record in 19 games since they suffered a four-game losing streak in early February.  At no time over those 20 games did Washington lose consecutive games, and their .825 points percentage over that span is best in the league.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.39 / 4th)

Two games, four goals in each, bring the total the Caps have against the Devils to five in six contests that the Caps posted four or more goals.  It was the ninth time in that 16-3-1 run that the Caps scored four or more goals in a game.

Five players shared in the eight goals over the two games, led by Alex Ovechkin with three.  Evgeny Kuznetsov added a pair, with Conor Sheary, Dmitry Orlov, and Nicklas Backstrom recording single goals.  Eleven different Capitals had points, led by Ovechkin and Kuznetsov with four apiece.  Four other Caps had two-point weeks – Justin Schultz, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, and Tom Wilson.

There were some dark spots, though.  The Caps did not get a point out of the Carl Hagelin-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway fourth line, and all of them were a minus-1 for the week (Richard Panik was the only other Caps with a minus rating, going minus-1).  Jakub Vrana did not record a point and had only two shots on goal, averaging ony 11:40 in ice time for the two games.

Defense: 1.50/game (season: 2.82 / 16th)

The Caps held the Devils to 48 shots over the two games, the 24.0 average being second-best in the league for the week (St. Louis: 23.2).  They allowed only 86 shot attempts at 5-on-5, tied for second-fewest among the eight teams playing two games in Week 11.  It is part of a pattern of stinginess the Caps have exhibited lately.  Four times in their last nine games they allowed fewer than 25 shots on goal.

In a week in which the Caps allowed only two goals a 5-on-5, one would not expect any individual Capital to be significantly victimized, and that was the case this week.  Ten Caps were on ice for a 5-on-5 goal, each of them for only one goal against.

Goaltending: 1.50 / .938 / 1 shutout (season: 2.59 / .910 / 2 shutouts)

Another split week for the goalies, and it was a case of Ilya Samsonov probably cementing his role as the Caps number one netminder down the stretch run.  Vitek Vanecek stopped 21 of 24 shots in his 59:40 of work for the week, getting the decision in the Caps’ 4-3 win to start the week against New Jersey.  It extended an odd month for Vanecek, who has been either very good or very mediocre stopping pucks in his six March appearances.  Three times he posted a save percentage of .947 or higher, including a shutout against Buffalo.  On the other hand, three times he posted save percentages of .875 or worse, allowing three or more goals in each, including a 14-for-18 effort in just 35:43 of work against Boston in a 5-1 loss on March 5th.

At the other end of the scale, Samsonov posted his first shutout of the season, a 24-save effort, in the Caps’ 4-0 win over the Devils on Friday.  With that win, Samsonov has a save percentage under .900 in two of seven appearances this month, and he has save percentages of .955 or better in three games, posting an overall March record of 5-`-0 (one no decision), 1.88. .933, with one shutout.  His .933 save percentage for the month is fifth-best of the 40 goalies with 300 or more minutes.

Power Play: 0-for-4 / 0.0 percent (season: 24.4 percent / 8th)

Few chances, no success.  The Caps spread the shots around, but that was good and bad.  Six Caps shared the nine power play shots on goal, with Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov each getting a pair.  On the other hand, they had one shot on goal from Alex Ovechkin and only one from a player in the middle of the 1-3-1 layout (T.J. Oshie).  The Caps had those nine shots in 8:00 of power play time, not a bad shots per minute rate.  But they seemed not to get them from scoring areas or from rebounds.  What made it a little harder to take was that despite being better of late, the Devils are a poor road penalty killing team (66.0 percent at week’s end).

Penalty Killing: 5-for-6 / 83.3 percent (season: 81.2 percent / 10th)

It was not a bad week for the Caps on the PK.  Allowing three power plays in each of the two games is not a bad amount to allow, and the Caps allowed only nine shots in 10:26 of shorthanded ice time.  The result was more or less an average week of penalty killing for the Caps.

Faceoffs: 55-for-118 / 46.6 percent (season:  percent 48.5 / 23rd)

Here was another category that was rather average for the Caps, by their standards this season.  The odd part of it was that the Caps were under 50 percent against a team worse than them in faceoffs (46.3 percent for the season at week’s end).  On the good side, the Caps were a bit better in the ends (a combined 40-for-79/50.6 percent) than they were in the neutral zone against the Devils (15-for-39/38.5 percent).

Nic Dowd was once more an above 50 percent player for the week in this category, and Nicklas Backstrom had a 50-plus percent week as well.  With Lars Eller out, T.J. Oshie took a heavier load in draws than usual, tying Dowd for second-highest number of faceoffs taken.  In a related point, the faceoff duties were parceled out by the ends rather cleanly.  Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov took primarily offensive zone draws (13 and 14, respectively), while Dowd and Backstrom took most of their draws in the defensive end (16 and 14, respectively).

Goals by Period:

Balance was the key.  Three first period goals, two second period goals, three third period goals, and one allowed in each of the three periods makes for a 2-0-0 week.  The Caps still dominate first periods (plus-8 for the season) and second periods (plus-15), but there remains work to do in third periods (minus-4).


The two-win week added to the Caps’ recent run of good fortune, and as a result this year’s team has almost caught up once more to last year’s team in many categories.  The goals for/goals against categories are striking for the similarities through 33 games.  One area that remains a concern, though, is power play chances. This year’s team is still 15 chances behind last years, almost half a power play opportunity per game (this year’s Caps rank 30th in the league in power play chances).

In the end…

Even with the absences of Tom Wilson (suspension) and Lars Eller (injury), plus a nicked up Alex Ovechkin (who did not miss any games, but has missed practice for “maintenance”), the Caps are rolling.  They have survived the absences by doing things in what some might call the “right way.”  They have been extraordinarily stingy, their 2.20 goals allowed per game over their 16-3-1 run since February 16th being second-best in the league.  It is the kind of result that can be sustained with effort, and with the East Division now bunched up at the top, with three teams separated by two points, effort is precisely what the Caps need as they prepare for the last third of the regular season.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, plus-5, eight shots on goal, 15 shot attempts, one game-winning goal, passed Mark Messier for seventh place all time in even strength goals (455))
  • Second Star: Ilya Samsonov (1-0-0, 0.00, 1.000; posted his first shutout of the season)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-4, one game-winning goal, seven shots on goal, posted first goals on home ice this season)


Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 34/35: Capitals vs. Rangers March 28/30

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals face the New York Rangers for the third and fourth times in six games when they play a home-and-home set against the Blueshirts Sunday in Washington and Tuesday in New York.  The Caps are fresh of a sweep of a two-game set on home ice against the New Jersey Devils, while the Rangers carried a three-game winning streak into their Saturday matchup against the fading Philadelphia Flyers.

Recent success by the Rangers have propelled them into the playoff conversation.  A 5-1-1 record over seven games heading into their Saturday contest in Philadelphia have them three points behind the Boston Bruins for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division, although the Bruins have three games in hand.  It is the third-best record in the league over that span in points percentage (.786), trailing only the Caps (6-1-0/.857) and the Colorado Avalanche (6-0-1/.929).

Over those seven games, Mika Zibnaejad leads the league in points (17), and his seven goals trail only Alex Ovechkin (eight).  It did not hurt that he faced the Philadelphia Flyers twice in that span and posted scoring lines of 3-3-6 in each game.  He is one of two players with at least one six-point game in the league this season (Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl is the other) and the only one to do it twice.  He is also one of only three players to post two six-point games since 2005-2006 (Daniel Alfredsson and Sidney Crosby were the others) and the only one to do it twice in one season.  He is the first player with two games with six or more points in one season since Eric Lindros had one goal and six assists in an 8-5 Flyers win over the Ottawa Senators on February 26, 1997, and followed that up with two goals and four assists in a 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 19, 1997.

Those two six-point games and 17 points in his last seven games have resurrected a season that was shaping up to be a disappointment.  He was just 3-6-9, minus-5, over his first 25 games despite getting almost 20 minutes of ice time per game (19:47).  He had one streak of six game without a point in that stretch and another of five.  He has points in five of his last seven contests.  Zibanejad is 12-11-23, plus-7, in 29 career games against Washington.

Will he go, or will he stay?  Ryan Strome has popped up in the trade rumor conversation of late But he is not making it easy for the Rangers’ front office to pull the trigger.  He is third on the team in goals scored this season (11) and second in points (30).  He leads the Rangers in assists (19).  And over the Rangers’ 5-1-1 stretch going into Saturday’s game, he is 2-10-12, plus-7 in seven games. 

When Strome is on, the Rangers are happy.  New York is 8-0-0 in games this season when he has a multi-point game and 8-0-1 when he scores a goal.  On a per-game basis, Strome is turning this season into a career year.  His 0.34 goals per game is far and away is best in eight NHL seasons (0.26 per game last season being second-best), his 0.59 assists per game tying his previous best (0.59 last year), and his 0.94 points per game is 0.10 points per game better than last year’s 0.84 mark.  Part of his goal scoring improvement is a more aggressive posture with respect to shooting, his 2.59 shots per game being a career high.  Odd Strome fact… He was taken one spot ahead of teammate Mika Zibanejad in the 2011 Entry Draft, Strome taken fifth and Zibanejad sixth.  Neither was taken by the Rangers.  Strom was selected by the New York Islanders, Zibanejad by the Ottawa Senators.  The Rangers took J.T. Miller with the 15th overall pick with their first round selection.  Strome is 8-14-22, minus-3 in 28 career games against the Caps.

It might seem odd to use the phrase “the clock is already ticking” with respect to a 25-year old goaltender, especially given that many goalies have a longer developmental arc before reaching their prime than skaters.  But that was the way New York Post columnist Larry Brooks concluded his piece on Ranger goalie Igor Shesterkin on Thursday.  This has not been the easiest sophomore season for the Rangers' goalie.  After wowing Rangers Nation with a 10-2-0, 2.52, .932 record in a brief stint last season, he opened this season with three losses in his first four appearances (0-2-1, one no decision), a 2.98 goals against average, and a .886 save percentage.  He came back with a three-game winning streak (3-0-0, 1.65, .940), but then he suffered another three-game losing streak that was more bad support than bad performance (0-3-0, 2.40, .927).  He performed well over a five-game stretch (3-2-0, 2.20, .928) before suffering a strained groin that kept him out for three weeks.  He returned to the lineup on Thursday in the Rangers’ 8-3 win over Philadelphia and stopped 41 of a season high 44 shots faced.  It has been a season marked by highs and lows, inconsistency, and a bit of injury to round it out.  Shesterkin is 2-0-0, 1.50, .950 in two career appearances against Washington.

1.  Over their 5-1-1 run, the Rangers are the only team in the league with two shorthanded goals scored.

2.  While the Rangers have been successful over those last seven games, their success has not come by playing nice.  Their 0.85 penalties per 60 minutes is most in the East Division over that span and fifth-most in the league.

3.  While the Caps have been impressive in second periods this season, the Rangers have been explosive in the second periods of their 5-1-1 run, posting 17 goals to lead the league.

4.  The Rangers are second in the league in 5-on-5 goals over their seven-game run of success (23), trailing only Colorado (28).

5.  After allowing four or more goals in each of three games before their 5-1-1 stretch, the Rangers have allowed more then three goals only once, in a 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on March 15th.

1.  If the Caps score two goals on Sunday, it will make it an even 400 goals scored on home ice against the Rangers in the all-time series.

2.  Washington leads the league in 5-on-5 goals scored this season (83), six more than Edmonton (77).

3.  The Caps lead the league in second period goals scored overall (47), three more than the Rangers and Tampa Bay (44).

4.  Washington is second in the league in wins when leading after two periods (17), one fewer than Tampa Bay.

5.  The Caps have more wins when outshot by opponents (ten) than any team in the East Dvision.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Ryan Lindgren

The Rangers have dressed ten defensemen this season.  Only one has appeared in all 32 games going into Saturday’s action.  Not Adam Fox, not K’Andre Miller, not Brendan Smith.  Ryan Lindgren has answered the bell 32 times for the Rangers this season.  His offensive numbers been decent – he is one of three Ranger defensemen without a goal this season, but he is second in assists (nine) and points (nine) among the ten blueliners.  His plus-8 rating ranks third among Ranger defensemen, he is third in shots on goal (37; he is one of 14 players in the league with at least 35 shots on goal and no goals), and his 19:46 in average ice time ranks fourth.  It paints a picture of a reliable player who does not impress with flash but provides solid minutes each night.

Lindgren came to the Rangers in the 2018 trade that sent Rick Nash to the Boston Bruins.  He was taken by the Bruins in the second round of the 2016 Entry Draft (49th overall), but he never played for the Bruins before he was sent to New York.  He is in his third season with the Rangers and has a kind of “Nick Jensen” quality about his play (well, before Jensen went on a scoring spree).  Lindgren has only one goal in 97 career NHL games.  He is 0-1-1, plus-5, in six career games against the Caps.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The king of goal scorers is back.  After posting just seven goals in his first 19 games this season, Alex Ovechkin has ten in his last ten games.  His eight even strength goals is equal to the total goal production of the second-highest goal scorer over the period (Mika Zibanejad).  His 3.24 goals per 60 minutes over that span is second in the league among players appearing in five or more games (Rocco Grimaldi: 3.34).  No player in the NHL over that span has more total goals, and it isn’t as if his rating has suffered for so much time in the offensive end.  His plus-10 over that span is tied for fifth-best it the league. 

Ovechkin is chasing a record that a few weeks ago seemed out of reach.  Coming into this season Ovechkin recorded 30 or more goals in each of his first 15 seasons, tied with Mike Gartner for the most all-time to start a career.  A 30-goal season this year would allow Ovechkin to hold that record alone, and he would be within one of Gartner for the most 30-goal seasons in NHL history (17).  With 17 goals in 29 games, he is on a pace to finish with exactly 30 goals.  Ovechkin has three goals in four games against New York this season and is 38-20-58, minus-11, in 63 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

Scoring has been the issue for the Caps against the Rangers this season.  They have managed only six goals in four games, going 1-3-0 in the process.  Perhaps it is the Caps having a bit too much respect for the Rangers’ team speed, their inability to solve the Rangers’ forechecking, or just a matter of the Rangers being “that team,” the kind of team you might find in any sport that seems to have one opponents’ number, at least for a season.  It is past time for the Caps to assert themselves.

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2


Thursday, March 25, 2021

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 32: Capitals 4 - Devils 3

The Washington Capitals opened a two-game set with the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.  The Caps were trying to return to the winning ways that saw them cobble together a seven-game winning streak before it was ended by the New York Rangers last Saturday.  They were also looking to go 5-0-0 against the Devils this season.  New Jersey was looking to build on their own two-game winning streak and capture a fifth win in their last six games.  The Caps seemed out of sorts for stretches during the game, but contributions from a variety of sources allowed them to hang on for a 4-3 win.

First Period

It took the visitors just 83 seconds to put the first marker on the board.  A sliding puck made its way all the way to goalie Vitek Vanecek, but he suffered a brain lock in trying to figure out to whom he wanted to pass the puck.  In the indecision, the puck slid off his stick, and Nick Merkley stuffed it between his pads to give the Devils the early 1-0 lead.

Washington tied the game 1:47 later when Dmitry Orlov took a cross-ice pass from Justin Schultz and from the left point fired a shot through a screen set up by Conor Sheary in front of goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, the shot hitting the far post and caroming in to make it 1-1.

The Caps went to the power play at the 6:13 mark when Yegor Sherangovich was sent off for hooking.  The Caps managed a single shot on goal and were kept off the scoreboard.  The Devils got their first power play 13:39 into the period when Zdeno Chara was hit with a slashing call.  New Jersey had three shots on goal in their man advantage, but they were unsuccessful getting any of them past Vanecek. 

The Devils got another power play at 18:15 but did not score before the period ended.  The teams went to the first intermission tied, 1-1, the Devils carrying over 15 seconds of a power play into the second period.

-- New Jersey outshot the Caps, 11-4, and out-attempted them, 25-11.

-- Washington had a 12-4 edge in credited hits, Garnet Hathaway leading the team with three.

-- John Carlson led the team in shot attempts with three.

-- Nicklas Backstrom was a perfect 4-for-4 on faceoffs.

Second Period

New Jersey did not score on the remaining 15 seconds of their power play to open the period, but they did take the lead back in the seventh minute when Miles Wood, shooting from a severe angle to Vanecek’s left, somehow found space between Vanecek, who was stapled to the left post, and the post to sneak the puck through to make it a 2-1 game at the 6:20 mark.

Washington tied it 55 seconds later when Alex Ovechkin one-timed a pass from Daniel Sprong and beat Blackwood from the left wing faceoff dot, tying the game at 2-2 7:15 into the period.

The Caps took their first lead of the game on a “let’s all meet at the net” play.  Ovechkin started the play with a blistering shot from the right wing circle that Blackwood defended, but could not control.  The puck popped into the air and fell into the slot as Brenden Dillion and Daniel Sprong caused havoc in front of Blackwood.  Evgeny Kuznetsov came in late, collected the loose puck and circled down and to the right of Blackwood.  His shot from just above the goal line snuck behind Blackwood and made it a 3-2 game 11:47 into the period.  That would be the end of the scoring through 40 minutes.

-- Daniel Sprong had a pair of assists and was a plus-3 through two periods.

-- Washington outshot the Devils, 9-6, in the second period and out-attempted them, 18-17.

-- John Carlson was one of five Caps with two shots on goal and led the team with six shot attempts through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The teams went back and forth to no productive end over the first half of the period minutes, but New Jersey was awarded a power play at the 10:38 mark, Nick Jensen going off for cross-checking.  The Devils converted the power play chance to tie the game, Jesper Bratt one-timing a pass from Ty Smith from the right wing circle over the glove of Vanecek on the near side at the 11:04 mark.

Once more, though the Caps responded immediately.  Justin Schultz fired the puck to the net from the right wing wall, a shot that was redirected by Kuznetsov and then off the skate of Devils defenseman Damon Severson past Blackwood to make it 4-3 12:06 into the period.

The Caps had a power play chance 20 seconds later when Sami Vatanen was sent to the penalty box for hooking.  They did not convert and clung to their one-goallead.

New Jersey pulled Blackwood for an extra skater late, but they could not find the equalizer, the Caps skating off with a 4-3 win.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps’ first, second, and fourth goals were scored just 1:47, 0:55, and 1:02 after New Jersey goals.

-- Evgeny Kuznetosv’s two goals were his first on home ice this season.  It was his 16th career multi-goal game, tying Mike Green for 17th place on the Caps’ all-time list.

-- Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, his 369th multi-point game of his career. He is the all-time leader in this category for the Capitals.

-- Daniel Sprong had two assists, the seventh multi-point game of his career and first for the Caps.

-- Justin Schultz had a pair of assists, his 40th career multi-point game and fifth with the Caps, all of them this season.

-- Jakub Vrana skated only three shifts in the third period after getting six shifts in each of the first two periods.

-- New Jersey outshot the Caps, 24-22, and out-attempted them, 55-49.  Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on goal; John Carlson led in shot attempts with nine.

-- Garnet Hathaway was credited with eight hits, almost as many as the entire Devils’ team posted (nine).

-- Zdeno Chara had six of the Caps’ 16 blocked shots.

-- Nic Dowd finished the game winning 11 of 17 faceoffs (64.7 percent).

In the end…

The Caps started sluggishly in this game and were out of sorts for stretches throughout.  However, they got a lot of contributions from different players, as the “other stuff” above indicates.  They had the good fortune of playing a team without a lot of depth in skill, but it seemed more a matter of four-day rust accumulation since their last game on Saturday than lack of effort.  With a rematch in less than 24 hours, more focus and energy should be sufficient to sweep this two-game set.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 31/32: Devils at Capitals, March 25/26

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals have had uninterrupted success against the New Jersey Devils the season.  After winning the first four meetings between the clubs to date, the Caps get a chance to add a pair of victories on Thursday and Friday when the Devils visit Capital One Arena.  Despite losing to the New York Rangers in their last outing, the Caps go into this two-game set with seven wins in their last eight games and a 14-3-1 record since February 16th, their .806 points percentage tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for best in the league over that span.  On the other side, the Devils arrive in Washington with a more modest four wins in five games, but it is a considerable improvement over the previous 14 games, over which they went 2-10-2.

An important ingredient in that recent success for the Devils has been goaltending.  Scott Wedgewood is 1-1-0, 2.56, .930,and his are the inferior numbers between the two New Jersey netminders.  Mackenzie Blackwood is 3-0-0, 1.97, .942 in his three appearances over those five games.  That .942 save percentage is the fifth-best in the league among 24 goalies logging at least 120 minutes over that span, and his .941 even strength save percentage is also fifth-best in the league among 13 goalies appearing in at least three games.  Blackwood’s three straight wins follow a ghastly nine-game stretch over which he went 1-8-0, 3.84, .866, and in all of those games he allowed three or more goals.  He allowed a total of only six goals in his three-game win streak.  Balckwood is 0-2-0, 3.58, .848 in two appearances against the Caps this season, 1-5-0, 3.48, .878 in six career appearances against Washington.

Back to Wedgewood, he has had an odd run of late.  Half of his last six appearances have gone to extra time, all of them losses, Gimmick losses to Buffalo and the New York Islanders and a 5-3 overtime loss to the Caps on March 9th, his only appearance against the Caps so far this season.  Another odd part of his record to date is that he does not get much in terms of goal support.  In ten appearances this season he is 0-4-2 when allowing three of more goals, 3-0-1 when allowing two or fewer.  In four career games against the Caps, Wedgewood is 1-0-3, 2.63, .903.

It is not as if the Devils have burned out goal lamps over their recent 4-1-0 run.  They have 13 goals over those five games, and no skater has more than two.  However, four of the nine skaters with goals over this stretch have a pair – Travis Zajac, Yegor Sharangovich, Sami Vatanen, and Kyle Palmieri.  Now in his 11th season but still just 30 years old, Palmieri has emerged as a potential trade asset as the Devils look to be sellers more than buyers as the trading deadline approaches.  Palmieri is in the last year of a five-year/$23.35 million contract with New Jersey.  He has been a very reliable point producer in recent seasons.  Since being traded to the Devils from Anaheim for a pair of draft picks I June 2015, he has posted more than 50 points in three of five seasons preceding this one and has averaged 56 points per 82 games over that period.  His points are down a bit on a per game basis so far this season, but his 15 points in 29 games is still tied for fourth on the team, and his five power play points is tied with P.K. Subban for the team lead.  Palmieri has a pair of assists in four games against the Caps this season and is 6-7-13, minus-2, in 25 career games against Washington.

1.  Miles Wood leads the Devils with nine goals.  No team has a leading goal scorer with fewer goals; Anaheim (Adam Henrique/Max Comtois) and Detroit (Robby Fabbri) also have a leading goal scorer with nine goals.

2.  New Jersey is a far more productive offensive team on the road than at home this season, averaging 3.23 goals per game (fifth in the league) away from Prudential Center and 1.94 goals per game at home (30th in the league).

3.  The Devils’ penalty kill on the road does not leave much to be desired, it leaves everything to be desired.  Their 62.8 percent road penalty kill is not only last in the league this season, it is the worst road penalty kill since the Los Angeles Kings had a 61.8 road penalty kill in 1982-1983.

4.  New Jersey does itself no favors early in games on the road on offense.  The six first period goals they scored so far this season is second-fewest in the league (Dallas: 5).  On the other hand, only four teams have allowed fewer goals on the road in the first period than the eight allowed by the Devils (Anaheim: 7; Arizona: 7; Vegas: 6; Colorado: 5)

5.  The Devils have eight road wins this season.  Six of them were by one goal, three of those in extra time.

1.  Only Vegas has more one-goal wins on home ice this season (seven) than the Caps (six).  They are one of only three teams in the league without a one-goal loss in regulation at home (Tampa Bay and Carolina are the others).

2.  Washington has almost as many goals scored in the second period of games on home ice (24) as total goals in the first and third periods combined (26).

3.  Only four teams have allowed more third period goals on home ice than the Caps (21).  Arizona (22), Detroit (22), New Jersey (23), and Anaheim (25) have more.

4.  The Caps have fewer power play chances per game on home ice (2.50) than any team in the league except the Islanders (2.31).

5.  It would not surprise any Caps fans that neither Brenden Dillon or Nick Jensen have a goal scored on home ice this season.  It might surprise more people that Evgeny Kuznetsov doesn’t have one, either.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Jesper Bratt

Over the Devils’ recent 4-1-0 run, Jesper Bratt and Travis Zajac lead the team with five points apiece.  For Bratt, who will carry a five-game points streak into the game against Washington on Thursday, it is part of a streaky season to date.  After starting the season without a point in his firat two games, Bratt peeled off a four-game points streak (all assists).  He followed that with just two points in his next seven games, but over his last 11 games he is 1-8-9, even.

What has been missing most from Bratt’s game so far this season is goal scoring.  After posting a career high 16 goals in 60 games last season with a 15.8 shooting percentage (also a career high), Bratt has only two goals on 54 shots (3.7 percent) in 24 games this season.  His point production, whether scoring goals himself or assisting on them, matter, especially to a team that does not have elite scoring elsewhere in the lineup.  The Devils are 8-4-1 in the 13 games in which he has a point, 1-8-2 in 11 games in which he does not.  There is also his offensive engagement generally.  New Jersey is 4-9-1 in 14 games in which he recorded two or fewer shots on goal, 5-3-2 in the ten games in which he had three or more shots on goal.  Bratt is 0-1-1, minus-1, in four games against the Caps this season, 1-2-3, even, in 13 career games against Washington.

Washington: Vitek Vanecek

He has no chance to catch Michal Neuvirth for the team record in wins in a season by a rookie goaltender (27), but Vitek Vanecek could become only the third rookie netminder in Caps history to hit the 20-win mark (Bob Mason had 20 in 1986-1987).  With 13 wins in 22 games, the biggest factor that would prevent him in reaching that goal is Ilya Samsonov appearing to re-establish himself as the number one goalie after Vanecek shouldered the load when Samsonov was laid up with COVID earlier in the season.

If anything, Vanecek’s performance is improving.  He started the season with a seven-game unbeaten streak, but he followed that up with a four-game losing streak.  Over the 11 games overall he was 5-3-2, 3.26, .901.  Since then, he is 8-2-1, 2.06, .923, with one shutout.  The eight wins are tied for seventh in the league over that span.  Of 41 goalies logging at least 400 minutes over that period, his 2.06 goals against average ranks seventh, and his .923 save percentage ranks 12th.  Among rookies over that same period, he ranks tied for second in wins (Kaapo Kahkonen: 9), fourth in goals against average, and fourth in save percentage.  Vanecek is 2-0-0, 2.97, .891 in his two appearances to date against New Jersey.

In the end…

If history is a guide here, you would think this could get ugly for the Devils, based on special teams.  The Caps are 4-for-6 in two games against an historically bad penalty kill on the road.  Two of the four power play goals scored by the Caps came in the first 30 seconds of a man advantage, one of them just seven seconds in.

Capitals 5 – Devils 2

Capitals 4 – Devils 3

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 10

If Week 9 was an eventful week for the Washington Capitals in some unfortunate ways -- Tom Wilson’s suspension, Lars Eller’s injury – then Week 10 was eventful in a good way.  A winning week, a goal streak, and even with a loss in the last game of the week, the Caps were once more sitting atop the East Division.

Record: 3-1-0

It was an odd week in terms of wins and losses.  In order, the Caps had their largest margin of victory for the season (a 6-0 win over Buffalo to start the week), perhaps their best overall game of the season in a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders, a come-from-behind win against the New York Rangers, and a loss to the Rangers in which they dominated in most aspects of the game but allowed a late tie-breaking goal and an empty netter to end a seven-game winning streak.  Even with the week ending loss, the Caps finished Week 10 with the best record in the league over their last 18 games since February 16th (14-3-1).  And, with the win over Buffalo to start the week, the Caps won their tenth road game of the season.  They wrapped up the week as one of four teams in the league with at least ten wins at home and at least ten wins on the road (Tampa Bay, Florida, and Carolina are the others).

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.35 / 5th)

It was a week of declining output on offense, half of the week’s scoring coming in the first game of the week (six goals against Buffalo), followed by games of three, two, and one goals.  The Caps were quite efficient against the Sabres, potting six goals on 30 shots (20.0 percent), not much of a surprise against the 28th-ranked scoring defense in the league and 30th-ranked scoring defense on home ice.  The Caps struggled as the week wore on, though, scoring three goals on 22 shots against the Islanders (13.6 percent), two goals on 18 shots in the first game against the Rangers (11.1 percent), and one goal on 29 shots in the rematch against the Rangers (3.5 percent).

Eight Capitals recorded goals for the week, led by Alex Ovechkin, who had four goals in the first three games of the week, including two game-winners, before he was blanked in the last game of the week to end a five-game goal streak.  The four goals allowed him to catch and pass Phil Esposito for sixth-place on the all-time goal scoring list.  Nicklas Backstrom was the other Capital with a multi-goal week (two), and Evgeny Kuznetsov had the other game-winning goal.

Sixteen of 19 skaters dressed in Week 10 posted points, led by Ovechkin (five).  Backstrom and Justin Schultz recorded point-per-game weeks with four point apiece.

Defense: 1.25/game (season: 2.90 / T-16th)

The Caps found defense in Week 10, the 1.25 goals per game allowed being fewest in the league for the week.  Much of that was due to allowing only 25.8 shots on goal per game, tied for third-fewest in the league (with, as it turned out, the Rangers, who the Caps played twice).  It made the shot attempts numbers a bit misleading.  The Caps allowed 174 shot attempts at 5-on-5, eighth most in the league for the week and in the top half of the 19 teams playing four games for the week.  However, of the 206 shot attempts allowed in all situations, opponents totaled 55 missed shots, about a game’s worth of shot attempts for the week.

It was a combination that resulted in only two 5-on-5 goals scored against the Caps for the week, tied with Tampa Bay for fewest in the league.  Three Caps were on ice for two even strength goals against – John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin.  At the other end, four Caps playing in all four games were on ice for no even strength goals against – Nicklas Backstrom, Conor Sheary, Richard Panik, and Dmitry Orlov.

Goaltending: 1.01 / .961 / 1 shoutout (season: 2.65 / .908 / 1 shutout)

Week 10 was one of those rare weeks this season in which the goaltending duties were split roughly down the middle.  Ilya Samsonov got two starts, logging 118:18 in ice time, and Vitek Vanecek had two starts, playing 120 minutes.  Both had excellent numbers. Samsonov was 1-1-0, 1.52, .935 for the week, but Vanecek was even better, going 2-0-0, 0.50, .982 and posting his first career shutout in the Caps’ 6-0 win over Buffalo to start the week. 

Vanecek was a perfect 46-for-46 in the last 40 minutes of games and did not allow an even strength goal in his 118 minutes of play.   Samsonov allowed only two even strength goals for the week on 40 even strength shots faced.  The two games Samsonov had this week were his first games on home ice this season after going 5-0-1 I seven road appearances (one no-decision).

Power Play: 2-for-11 / 18.2 percent (season: 25.6 percent / 8th)

For about five minutes, the Caps’ power play was quite good in Week 10.  Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom scored power play goals just over five minutes apart straddling the second and third periods in the Caps’ 3-1 win over the New York Islanders in the second game of the week.  Other than that, it was a dry well, going without one in nine other chances.

The confounding part of the week was the Caps absence of any success against the New York Rangers.  An 0-for-5 effort over two games left the Caps 0-for-13 in four games against the New Yorkers.  Washington is the only team the Rangers have faced who have yet to record a single power goal against.  An odd parenthetical to that fact, the Rangers are just 29-for 38/76.3 percent in penalty killing against the weakest teams in the division (New Jersey, Buffalo, and Philadelphia).  However, they are 55-for-59/93.2 percent against the four teams in the playoff mix (the Caps, Pittsburgh, Boston, and the Islanders).

Washington managed only 12 power play shots on goal in 20:18 of power play ice time.  Alex Ovechkin had almost half of those shots (five) with T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov recording a pair of shots apiece.  Jakub Vrana had the other shot on goal to complete the record.

Penalty Killing: 7-for-9 / 77.8 percent (season: 81.1 percent / 12th)

The Caps did a reasonable job in holding down power play chances for opponents, allowing only nine such chances in four games (a welcome development after allowing 43 chances over the previous four weeks) and not allowing more than three in any single game.  It was that efficiency, plus allowing only 11 power play shots 16:37 of ice time that allowed the Caps to break even on special teams for the week with two goals scored and two goals allowed.

Faceoffs: 104-for-196 / 53.1 percent (season: 48.6 percent / 21st)

It was a very good week for the Caps in the faceoff circle.  They topped 50 percent in all three zones for the week and were better in the ends (55.0 percent in the offensive end, 52.6 percent in the defensive end) than they were in the neutral zone (51.7 percent).  And while the Rangers finished the week as the worst team in the league in faceoff winning percentage, the Caps did also face the seventh and ninth ranked teams (the Islanders and Sabres, respectively). 

Nic Dowd had an especially productive week.  His 66.7 percent wins ranked second in the league among 111 players taking at least 25 draws (David Krejci was first with 71.0 percent).  T.J. Oshie had a fine week as well, posting a 60.9 win percentage which would have ranked him 12th in that same group but for the fact he took 23 draws.

Among the other Caps taking at least ten draws for the week, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov struggled, neither of them reaching 45 percent in wins.

Goals by Period:

The Caps had some trouble getting started in games, posting only one goal in the first periods of games in Week 10.  They came on late, though, with five second period goals and six third period goals (only Edmonton and Colorado scored more third period goals for the week with eight apiece).  Allowing no second period goals (only San Jose and Ottawa allowed no second period goals in addition to the Caps in Week 10) and only two non-empty netters in the third periods of games gave the Caps a commanding 11-2 edge in non-empty net goals over the last two periods of games.

The five second period goals put the Caps at the top of the rankings in second period goals for the season (45).  And, their plus-14 second period goal differential is tied with Montreal for the top spot in the league.


The Caps are making up some ground in the year-over-year numbers, not surprising given the recent seven-game winning streak.  One thing that does stand out is that over the first 31 games of the season, the Caps have recorded 102 fewer shots on goal than at a similar point last season, a 10.5 percent drop.  Shots on goal against are down, too, but the shot differential is deep into minus territory this season (minus-43) whereas last season through 31 games the Caps were at plus-9.  The Caps are slightly better in shooting percentage as a result of fewer shots (perhaps a product of quality versus quantity), recording a 12.0 percent shooting efficiency compared to 11.5 percent at a similar point last season.

The Caps have also been significantly more economical with the puck, recording 101 fewer giveaways than at a similar point last season.  How these are scored is a product of interpretation as much as anything else, but a 31.8 percent drop is significant, nonetheless.

In the end…

The loss to the Rangers to end the week aside, the Caps remain on a lengthy run of good fortune.  Continuing that trend will be important over the next seven games, six of which will be against teams not in the playoff mix (four against New Jersey, two against the Rangers).  The most encouraging signs coming out of Week 10 is the defensive stinginess exhibited by the Caps, perhaps a sign that things are become more instinctive than a product of thinking about assignments.  Maintaining that defensive focus will be one of, if not the most important ingredient to keeping the team at the top of the East Division heap.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-1-5, plus-4, passed Phil Esposito for sixth place in all-time NHL goal scoring, 16 shots on goal, two game-winning goals, nine credited hits, 20:52 in ice time per game, passed the 1,300 points mark in his career (35th player in NHL history to do so))
  • Second Star: Vitek Vanecek (2-0-0, .050, .982, first career NHL shutout, finished week tied for fourth in wins (13), leads all rookie goalies in wins and minutes played (1,286:05))
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4, plus-3, five shots on goal, 19:29 in average ice time per game, on ice for no even strength goals scored against)